July 6th, 2011
07:55 AM GMT
Tokyo (CNN) – A restaurant in Tokyo is crowded with customers, but on the menu isn’t raw fish, but raw meat – chicken, pork, beef and even horse meat.
About half the customers at “Niku Sushi” (Japanese for “raw meat”) are women like Aya Kanazawa, who comes three times a week and proudly calls herself “a carnivore girl.” It’s not just her culinary tastes she’s talking about. In an odd way, the battle between meat and fish parallels the battle of the sexes and Japan’s moribund economy.
Japan's so-called “carnivore girls” are young, aggressive women. They call the shots in love, act independently and – like Kanazawa – are proud of it.
Girls like Kanazawa are in contrast to Japan’s so-called "herbivore boys," the generation of Japanese youths who are less interested in sex. Borne out of 20 years of national economic stagnation, herbivore boys eschew traditional macho notions of masculinity and employment, choosing not to fulfill the salarimen role of their fathers.
For a country with one of the world’s lowest birthrates – and one of the fastest aging populations – the "herbivore boys" embody the nation’s societal fears.
With more attention placed in the Japanese press on “herbivore” men and “carnivore” women, restaurateurs like Niku Sushi’s Hiroaki Toda sensed a marketing opportunity to make the buzzword literal – appealing directly to “carnivore girls.”
It has certainly been a good business move. “We’re riding off the buzz of the carnivore girls,” Toda said. Indeed, as more women come to his restaurant, business is thriving. The restaurant expanded to four locations and is looking to franchise.
Trendy or not, is eating raw meat safe? Niku Sushi has been open eight months without a single reported case of food poisoning, and Japan boasts some of the highest food safety standards in the world. Despite this positive track record, four people died at a different chain restaurant two months ago after eating spoiled raw beef. Now, that restaurant sticks to raw horse meat, chicken and pork.
Safe or not, as long as there are “herbivore boys,” it looks as though the “carnivore girls” are here to stay.
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